Crime & Terrorism in Georgia - What to look out for

Crime is a problem throughout Georgia. The situation is complicated by long standing ethnic tensions, political instability and terrorism. To date, there is no evidence of political violence directed specifically at foreigners.

However, there is always the danger of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In August 2008, exchange of gunfire and artillery between Georgian and separatist forces from South Ossetia escalated into full-blown war between Georgia and Russia.

Although, contrary to the post-war settlement, the Russian Federation still maintains a strong military presence in these regions, there is no evidence that they exert any degree of civic control.

Those parts of Georgia contiguous to the separatist controlled territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have seen periodic incursions from separatist forces who have engaged in shootings, kidnappings, remotely-detonated car bombings, booby-trapped mine settings, and other acts of violence.

Another danger zone is the Pankisi Gorge to the north of the Akhmeta district of the Kakheti region. The majority population of this region (75%) consists of Kists, an ethnic group of Chechen roots. In recent years, this region has been the scene of periodic fighting between Georgian forces and Chechen militia and criminal elements including suspected international terrorists.

Such "terrorist" or "criminal" acts (a matter of definition) primarily targeted Georgian police and government officials. But ordinary civilians and foreign observers were targeted as well.

Tourists are well advised to keep away from the recent conflict zone. They should also avoid Perevi (which lies outside the South Ossetian administrative zone), the Akhalgori region of South Ossetia (which was never part of the conflict zone), and the Kodori Gorge area of Abkhazia which, prior to the 2008 war was under Georgian government control.

The Russian Army, which is in charge of keeping general peace in the region, has had little involvement in keeping the area secure against regular crime and kidnappings.

Some travel alerts warn tourists of the danger of sexual assault against foreigners in Georgia. To minimize the likelihood of sexual assault, it is advisable to exercise extreme caution, especially when visiting unfamiliar places.

However, one should note that the majority of confirmed sexual assaults (some culminating in torture and murder) in Georgia during the last two decades, were perpetrated against Georgian women and girls of various ethnicities, especially during ethnic conflict in war zones.

The sole confirmed exception is the American Peace Corps volunteer, Christina Holsomback. Working in the Republic of Georgia in 2008, on a weekend trip to the capital, Tbilisi, a man she considered her friend sexually assaulted her in a car.

As one travel alert points out: There is a great disparity in affluence between foreigners and most Georgians. Given this state of affairs, foreigners are perceived as being wealthy and are therefore targeted for economic and property based crimes.

Such crimes include residential break-ins, car theft, petty theft and armed robbery and frequently occur in the capital, Tbilisi, usually when the victim is alone, after dark and in unfamiliar surroundings.

Many have been perpetrated in tourist areas frequented by foreigners: Vake, Saburtalo, the bar area of Perovskaya near Republic Square, the Narikala Fortress and Mother Georgia area of Tbilisi. In December 2004, Gunter Beuchel, an official with the European Commission in Georgia, was robbed and murdered in Tbilisi.

In recent years, foreigners have been subject to kidnapping, hijacking and carjackings. Most victims were wealthy, long term residents. After a period of imprisonment, most kidnap victims were released unharmed, after their families or employers paid a hefty ransom. Evidence suggests that high-ranking officials and the police force were involved.

Partly as a result of the recent ethnic conflict, firearms are readily available in Georgia. Hence, throughout the country, assailants are likely to be armed with firearms and other weapons. Resistance is not recommended.

Foreigners are advised to refrain from flaunting their wealth. If you don't wear expensive jewellery, flash the latest mobile or carry wads of cash you won't attract attention. If you are robbed, there won't be much to take.

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  • Diego said

    Hi, has anyone been in Georgia recently? I'm planning to go early next year but it seems to be a bit dangerous. Any advice?

    Thanks,
    Diego

  • Rick said

    Yes. September of 2012 and headed back soon. Great place. Have a good trip. Just be a "smart traveler" and enjoy the hospitality. Most (95%+) Georgians are friendly and want you to experience their country and culture. There are some cultural differences, however. Men are expected to be able to drink a lot. The good news is the homemade wines generally have a low alcohol content. Women get a pass on heavy drinking. But a woman simply being friendly can be misinterpreted as conducting serious flirting...Georgian men can be a bit more aggressive than the average American if they think a woman is flirting with them.
    Most foreigners who experience "problems" contribute to the problem by doing something stupid...would you get drunk and walk the streets of Washington DC alone at 3:00AM and expect to be "incident free"? Would you flash a lot cash? Just be a smart traveler and you'll have a great time.

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